Lower Columbia Youth Soccer Association marks a milestoneWARRENTON - Soccer is alive and well on the North Coast.

And it is celebrating a birthday.

Twenty years ago, a small corps of parents gathered to build a sports program for their sons and daughters. Little did they know, as Astoria attorney Hal Snow reflects, that 20 years later they would be celebrating two decades of what the rest of the world calls "football."

"It's a classic example of what grassroots volunteers can accomplish over a period of time," says Snow, whose sons Jeremy and Randy excelled at soccer locally and elsewhere after high school. "It was a case of some people saying 'something should happen' and then doing just that."

Astoria boys kicked off their season Thursday afternoon against state powerhouse LaSalle, following Seaside boys' opener against Gladstone Tuesday. On Saturday, scores of younger children in colorful uniforms, cleated soccer shoes and all-important shin pads will kick off the fall recreational program and the high school girls will play in a jamboree.

Organizers of the league hadn't realized until a few days ago that they will be celebrating a milestone.

Fergus Loughran is in his second year as president of the organization that now boasts 70 or more recreational teams, two traveling classic teams, plus the high school girls and boys programs in Astoria and Seaside. Altogether, some 800 children are kicking soccer balls around Warrenton every fall, beginning Saturday and running through Halloween.

"We don't turn any child away," says Loughran, who learned the game at Portland's Jesuit High School, then Willamette University of Salem. "No kid is denied the opportunity to play."

One early driving force was Capt. Bill Donnell, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Group Astoria, who had seen soccer thrive during an overseas posting. Drawing on help from Coast Guard members and their spouses, Donnell, Snow and a cadre of others, including residents of Washington's Long Beach Peninsula, chartered the Lower Columbia Youth Soccer Association, April 6, 1984.

The organization never had a home for its first four years. Teams played on local school fields, at Tongue Point, and anywhere they could set up goal posts.

Then a setback in the late 1980s became an opportunity. North Coast school leaders, concerned that their fields were too heavily used, suggested the soccer kids find somewhere else to play.

They did. Warrenton's old city garbage dump on Ridge Road had been capped with clay and closed. The city was willing to let the soccer club develop it.

The price was right - LCYSA pays the princely sum of $1 a year - but it took hours of sweat from adult volunteers to turn it into a level, playable field.

Over the years - thanks, in part, to an army of moms walking the fields picking up rocks - the site became the Warrenton Soccer Complex. Now there are three fields, one with stadium-quality floodlights, which are trod by hundreds of cleats every evening and weekend during the fall. The Hispanic community also has a competitive adult league which uses the fields.

"The entire facility was built and is maintained and operated without using any tax dollars," says Loughran, who commended the city of Warrenton and Clatsop County for support. Huge signboards at the fields honor volunteers and many local businesses that have contributed time, money and materials to make it happen.

North Coast soccer has attracted some notable visitors, including the late Clive Charles, coach of the national NCAA champion University of Portland women's team, and Kasey Keller, star goalkeeper from Lacey, Wash., who appears for the U.S. national team. Last winter, Don Howe, coach of the Portland Timbers, brought a Lake Oswego boys classic team.

Snow, Loughran and others highlight the contribution of Jerry Boisvert of Warrenton, who has served in leadership positions and knows every inch of the fields. Boisvert, whose children Peggy and Barney played, deflects praise for his contributions, preferring to focus on his delight that it's becoming a second-generation program. "That's really heartwarming," says Boisvert, the Astoria High School boys coach.

The most recent success was last week as Boisvert and others with the association worried about getting the main parking lot extension in good shape before the season started. A phone call to Big River Excavation settled things as Mike Sarin volunteered his equipment and time to help level the surface, even working several hours Sunday to complete the job.

Boisvert smiles as he recalls the early days building the program and the facility. "I can remember the naysayers," he says, "but there was nothing that stopped us."

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